JOHANNESBURG – The no-nonsense Kaizer Chiefs coach, Ernst Middendorp, came out in defence of Hendrick “Pule” Ekstein who lost the ball several times in the Soweto Derby - a criminal offence for a playmaker.
Amakhosi let slip an opportunity to beat their arch-rivals Orlando Pirates for the first time since 2014. The Buccaneers fought back to share the spoils in a 1-1 draw at FNB Stadium on Saturday.
The draw felt like a defeat for Amakhosi. They pinned Pirates back with their energy and hunger to end a hat-trick of successive defeats from the Sea Robbers.
But small mistakes, including giving possession cheaply, cost Amakhosi. Ekstein was among those who gave the ball away too easily. He struggled to complete passes, which is alarming for a player whose job is to pass the ball as Chiefs’ creative livewire.
“For players to grow and really be able to play 90 minutes, be consistent, responsible, accountable and express their talent and skills - you need games over a long period,” Middendorp said.
“You need training to get it right and find the right tools. Hendrick is an outstanding player. He isn’t a youngster anymore. He is 28. This is definitely somebody who can carry the team forward, with his ideas and what he regularly does.
It happens (that players make mistakes). Unfortunately, what can we do? We could have corrected it. That’s part of the team work.
“We could have closed space and be a little bit more alert, then nothing would have happened. Unfortunately, it happened but he is an outstanding player and one of the best players I have ever worked with.”
A win for Chiefs would have seen them level on points with fourth-placed Cape Town City, who lost to AmaZulu in Durban. A victory for the Buccaneers would have moved them to second place, two points behind Bidvest Wits, who lost to Highlands Park in Tembisa.
This weekend’s results favoured Mamelodi Sundowns, who are in Abidjan preparing to take on Asec Mimosas tomorrow in the CAF Champions League.
The Brazilians are in a comfortable position in the league race, not just because other challengers dropped points but because they will go to the top should they make the most of the three games in hand they have over Wits who are three points ahead of them.
Sundowns’ coach Pitso Mosimane once said that should his team be No 1, the other teams should forget about the championship because they won’t relinquish that position.
Calling Chiefs title-contenders is a stretch. Not only are they nine points adrift, but they also aren’t consistent enough to keep up with the leading pack.
Despite that, Middendorp still has belief that they can battle it out for the Absa Premiership.
“There’s a reasonable distance between us and the top, we have to do our best to pick up points,” Middendorp said. “Off course we also have to wait and see what the teams ahead of us are doing. They also all have to play each other.
You see the result today on the other side (Wits losing to Highlands Park) - good. If someone who is in front of us slips, and we can use it to our advantage, then we will do.
“It’s unfortunate that we only got one point. We have a very clear vision, we’ll try to prepare well and try to win every game that we go into regardless of whether it’s home or away.
I am not saying that the season is over. There’ll be a lot of results that will surprise you.”